Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Archive for November 2012

Review: Sonic CD (Sega CD)

leave a comment »

soniccd_boxConsole: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1993
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $11.99 (used), $23.50 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: Yes – PC, PS2/Gamecube (Sonic Gems Collection)
Digital Release? Yes – Steam, Xbox 360, PS3, Android, iOS ($5 on all platforms)

Sonic CD is one of those games that it’s just popular to like.  I don’t want to start on a negative note, the game does have some merit, but it’s not a particularly good Sonic game and doesn’t quite change the universe like many will claim.  Before Sega decided to blitz every console on the market with the digital version, Sonic fans were gnawing at the bit for a decent port (sadly the Sonic Gems Collection ports had emulation issues).  Now that it’s everywhere the gaming community seems to have adjusted to a more realistic view of the CD adventure that throws a few imaginative ideas at relatively lackluster level design.

At one point you're forced to beat Metal Sonic in a race.

At one point you’re forced to beat Metal Sonic in a race.

For those that aren’t up on their Sonic history, the hedgehog was co-created by Naoto Oshima and his more known partner Yuji Naka.  After the release of the first game, Naka and several members of that team moved to the United States and joined with STI (Sega Technical Institute) to create Sonic the Hedgehog 2.  Meanwhile the remaining developers, including Oshima, took the concepts that were in early development for Sonic 2 and expanded upon them into what eventually became Sonic CD.  This is why despite coming out around the same time as Sonic 2, Sonic CD looks graphically more like the original and doesn’t seem to adapt some of the great ideas of the sequel.  Still, it does feature some interesting gameplay mechanics, like the ability to move into the past and future with two full versions of the many levels.  This dual expansion of the campaign does have a casualty: level design.  Many of the levels in Sonic CD feature plenty of wasted real estate in the interest of moving quickly to the right, odd gimmicks that net death if you don’t tolerate the so-so platforming, and several instances where Sonic’s momentum is completely spoiled by a random ramp or springboard.  Despite these layout flaws I still contest that the boss designs are superior over Sonic 2 and prove that not all of the talent in Sega’s Japanese team migrated to America.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fred Rojas

November 30, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Review: Racing Aces (Sega CD)

leave a comment »

Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1994
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Difficulty: Hard
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $4.45 (used), $9.35 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: No
Digital Release? No

Racing Aces is another in a long line of games that came out before their time.  It’s not that the concept is particularly unique – a bunch of different planes involved in a race with occasional weapon combat – but rather that it’s a fully polygonal game trying to operate on a system that just doesn’t have the power.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the Sega CD, but I acknowledge that it did nothing more than add some graphical maps and sound channels to the Sega Genesis.  This isn’t very conducive to a fully rendered 3D environment for racing.  As a result it looks and acts much like the Genesis ports of games like Virtua Racing or Hard Drivin’, with large bare environments that are boring to look at and staggered, slow vehicles that don’t make for an exciting battle.  Racing Aces moves sluggishly, the enemies have an unfair advantage, bare bones world, and is a racing game – all negative things in my book – so why do I like it so much?

The game starts off with a training arena that gets you used to using the easiest of the four classes of airplanes, the basic bi-plane.  It allows you to learn navigation, pointing the plane where you want it, and how to navigate the air before throwing competition your way.  It’s during this tutorial level that I learned I had a long way to go and for some reason remained a blocked part of my fond memory of this game.  Racing Aces controls like a computer that has too many processes (which may very well be what’s happening) because all of your inputs have drastic changes to the movement of your plane and come a few seconds after you press them, so it’s difficult to re-adjust yourself after an overshoot.  You eventually get the hang of it but that really means you get used to tapping directions to slowly adjust your direction to just the right spot.  Well until you hit a turn, that is, when everything gets thrown drastically off course and you’re again fighting to fly in a straight line.  Since I’ve never flown a plane before, I guess it’s possible that this is a normal experience for pilots but for those of us just trying to play a game it was a bit specific.  This speaks nothing for the other planes in each class, there are usually 2-4 different ones, which will force you to readjust to even more picky controls.  It’s all worth it once you grind through the hour or so of practice to get your skills up because then you feel like this laughably sluggish race moving at stuttering speeds is actually intense.  By the end of it onlookers couldn’t help but crack up as I inched my way toward a finish line.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fred Rojas

November 27, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Review: Double Switch (Sega CD)

leave a comment »

Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1993
Developer: Digital Pictures
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Difficulty: Hard
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $2.63 (used), $7.63 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: Yes – Sega Saturn, PC/MAC
Digital Release? No

This is the game that brought it all together and proved that not only was a full motion video (FMV) game possible, it could be properly acted with high production values.  Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure this title completely bombed on the Sega CD, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many freaking copies in the world (both used and sealed).  Despite its commonality, Double Switch is like many other titles in the vast gaming world that starts off solid and becomes a veritable train wreck near the end.  Honestly that’s when its commonality and subsequent low price tag come in to justify the purchase because I still really dig this title.  It’s definitely not without plenty of flaws and if played in long intervals, can easily induce the need to never touch it again.  If you can stomach it, this title does bring with it all the charm of a far-fetched early 90s pop film, which lead Corey Haim should suggest by the very fact he’s cast in the game.  With the proper introduction, Double Switch was a fair follow-up to its much more popular, although purely due to its controversy, older brother Night Trap.

Developer Digital Pictures is solely to blame for the FMV game and it held the most firm grasp and largest library on the Sega CD.  A company that started off as the lead developer for Hasbro’s canceled NEMO game system (that would do basically the same thing with VHS tapes), most of the sales celebrated by the company came from all the controversy of Night Trap.  Even back then there was clear admission that Night Trap was a dated title that lacked almost any interactivity by the player and had terrible acting to boot.  Double Switch, the successor that would follow the same structure without being a true sequel, hoped to address many of these complaints and did a fairly decent job of it.  Unfortunately no one factored in the fact that many gamers thought they would see graphic violence or sexual themes as the sole reason for picking up Night Trap, the return on investment was hardly there.  With what was surely a much higher budget than any similar title at the time, Double Switch was a big gamble that failed and not without good reason.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fred Rojas

November 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin (Sega CD)

leave a comment »

Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1993
Developer: Technopop
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: Helpful – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $8.88 (used), $39.99 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: Yes – Simply known as Spider-Man on Genesis, Game Gear, and Master System
Digital Release? No

As we sometimes see in the 16-bit era, first party published titles became interesting exclusives on either side of the console wars and among the various Spider-Man titles I have to say this is my favorite.  Amazing Spider-Man vs. Kingpin (or better known on all other ports as Spider-Man) tasks you with defusing a bomb set by the nefarious Kingpin within 24 hours (pretty sure that’s not real-time) by collecting keys from different foes in the Spider-Man universe.  This was the first game I played that gave me exactly what I expected out of a superhero title.  It allowed me to play as Spider-Man, it had solid controls that included web slinging and wall grabbing, and it did it all in a side scrolling platformer/brawler.  Not only that, but the game embraces a non-linear structure where you visit locations throughout the city and face whatever is in certain locations, which felt like it freed the game up to your personal pacing, something quite uncommon in the days of early platformers.  While the plot centralized around the Kingpin, you will take on almost all of Spider-Man’s key foes including Venom, Doc Oc, Lizard, and Electro, just to name a few.  Graphically the game had that semi-real grit that Sega titles all seemed to offer in the early 90s with great animated storyboard art throughout.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fred Rojas

November 25, 2012 at 11:34 am

Podcast: Game Club – Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse

leave a comment »

This week Fred and guest Rob “Trees” from EZ Mode Unlocked tackle November’s game club title Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse for the Sega Genesis.  They get into discussions about the context of the game to the content, time period of release, individual levels, and even chime in on the soundtrack.

As an added bonus, Fred completed the campaign in its entirety on video (below):

Listen to this episode
Download this episode (right click and save)

Visit our podcast site

Written by Fred Rojas

November 21, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Feature: Max Payne – A New Perspective

leave a comment »

Growing up, I played Max Payne for the excitement I got out of the gameplay, that slow motion diving and shooting mechanic. It felt perfect when I was in my teens playing these games for the first time. It was over-the-top action fun. I wasn’t looking for realism or a great story, I just wanted to shoot things. The Max Payne games were a perfect fit with their smooth and methodical gunplay.

I’ve played through Max Payne 1 and 2 about four times each, always playing the second title just after the first. It isn’t hard to do. Each game is only about 5 to 6 hours long. If I wasn’t completing one of the games in less than 6 hours it sure as hell felt like I was.

Other things that kept me coming back were the locales. They’re iconic and memorable – a frozen New York City, a grimy subway station, a sleazy hotel, an old church turned gothic nightclub, just to name a few.

“Life knows two miseries: getting what you don’t want and not getting what you want.”

Even though the locales were iconic, the gameplay superb, and the playtimes short, the story of Max Payne was something I had never paid attention to. I haven’t played the first two games in years, but I recently went back and finished them again before playing Max Payne 3.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fred Rojas

November 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Friday at the Movies: Jurassic Park (Sega CD)

leave a comment »

Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1993
Developer: Universal Pictures/Amblin Entertainment
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: Helpful – Link
Difficulty: Easy
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $1.02 (used), $10.39 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: No
Digital Release? No

When the movie Jurassic Park came out in 1993, it was an absolute phenomenon.  People who had never read the book were picking it up in droves, and from what I could tell through conversation at that time almost no one actually read it.  Dinosaur craze returned in full force as Michael Crichton’s novel about a genetic research company cloning dinosaurs on a Costa Rican island brought out the kid in everyone.  Not only that, Spielberg’s film adaptation utilized cutting edge computer generated image technology along with stop motion and creature expert Stan Winston to create lifelike dinosaurs onscreen that amazed everyone.  Jurassic Park was not only ideal for the medium it was on, the premise was tailor-made for marketing companies to merchandise the hell out of it.  Back then development cycles were short and coordinating a solid game release along with a movie wasn’t so far-fetched, and honestly most home ports of the game were as diverse as it came across platforms and all pretty decent.  My personal favorite has to be the Sega CD port, which merged details from both the movie and the book to create, of all things, a point-and-click adventure set on the island.  The opportunity of exploring the vacant island and interacting with the dinosaurs was a great opportunity, but I didn’t come to appreciate it until I was much older due to the lack of action in the game.

Set shortly after the abandonment of the island in the movie, you’re tasked with returning to Jurassic Park after the tragedy that befell its visitors and recover dinosaur eggs for rebuilding.  Since the eggs are lost and you are unaware of Dennis Nedry’s specimen can, your only option is to sneak into the nest of the 12 given dinosaur species, recover an egg, and return it to the incubator at the visitor’s center.  While locations remain in a controlled environment (you’re forced into fast travel movies that drop you into the screens you explore), there is an awful lot of freedom to roam about.  What I found most iconic is the ability to explore areas like visitor center laboratory and even special access to Dr. Wu’s office, the tyrannosaur paddock and seeing the after effects of the attack on the SUVs that Tim, Lex, and Grant were in, and even a tense trip down the island river (which is never featured in the movie but a crucial part of the book’s plot) as dilophosaurs spit venom at you.  While this sounds gripping and almost too high brow for 1993, you must remember that this game is a true adventure game not unlike the LucasArts and Sierra titles, which means action is few and far between.  Even in the sequences where you do engage dinosaurs, the answer is always some sort of puzzle that usually has you dying quite a few times before figuring out the secret.  I think most people who go into this game are imagining something that is a bit more interactive than it is, but if you approach it with an adventure game mindset it weaves an intriguing story.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fred Rojas

November 16, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Podcast: Project Revolution?

leave a comment »

The Secret Technology to the Wii’s Insides

Fred and Rob “Trees” from EZ Mode Unlocked get together to help Nintendo bury the Wii.  A console that soared above the clouds in sales and destroyed the hearts and souls of most core gamers, it has become the official punching bag of this generation.  As usual, we discuss the myriad of titles the console had to offer in probably our largest list of titles and longest podcast yet on the site.

Listen to this episode
Download this episode (right click and save)
Visit our official podcast site

Please note: Our podcast can also be found on iTunes and Stitcher, if you prefer.

Written by Fred Rojas

November 14, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Video Playthrough: Rule of Rose (PS2)

leave a comment »

Console: Playstation 2
Released: September 12, 2006
Developer: Punchline
Publisher: Atlus (in US)
Value: $48.33 (used), $79.99 (new) (pricecharting.com
Price: $40-$60 (used) (eBay)
Digital Release? No

This article is purely gameplay videos.  It will be updated as the game is completed.  We also discussed and partially reviewed this game on our podcast, the specific episode can be found here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fred Rojas

November 12, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Review: Sewer Shark (Sega CD)

leave a comment »

Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1992
Developer: Digital Pictures
Publisher: Sony Imagesoft
Instruction Manual: Helpful – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $0.87 (used), $20.00 (new) (pricecharting.com
Price: $3-$10 (used) – Since this game was a pack-in, almost never seen sealed outside console bundles
Other Releases: 3DO
Digital Release? No

Sewer Shark is another converted game from the canceled Hasbro NEMO console and was intended to be played using a VHS (just like Night Trap) although how they were going to do it is completely beyond me.  Most of the games I covered last week were good concepts that resulted in okay launch games that were flawed either by long load times or just not fully fleshed out.  I would argue that among the launch window titles, Sewer Shark is the exception.  It is a complete video game that utilizes the video functionality of the console and combines it with simple gameplay mechanics to make a solid experience.

sewershark1Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the surface of Earth is unlivable and creatures are forced underground to dwell in drab conditions.  Not only that but the creatures of the sewers have mutated, causing larger sizes (scorpions and bats) and hybrids (ratigators – a hybrid of rats and alligators) that make sewers a dangerous world to trek on foot.  As a result, little ships that can navigate the sewers, known as Sewer Sharks, navigate the tunnels to get people around, hunt for food, and offer a promise of the one haven left on the planet: Solar City.  In Sewer Shark you play a new pilot recruit (nicknamed “sewer jockey”) that has the overall goal of retiring in Solar City.  Unfortunately almost every jockey that attempts the trek dies in a sewer crash or by the hands of some mysterious danger in Sector 19, the final stretch before Solar City.  As best put by your co-pilot Ghost in the beginning, you receive, “a name, a boss, a friend, and a reason to live…a million pounds of tubesteak, that’s all you gotta deliver today hotshot!” in order to make it to the end.  This is important because the game has a very simple task – navigate the sewers, kill enemies to collect points (pounds of tubesteak), and once you hit a million you get the final encounter.  It’s a pretty decent setup and definitely a concept not overused in games at that point, unfortunately to collect all this information you have to read the manual and play close attention to the introduction that can be skipped by simply pressing start.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fred Rojas

November 12, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 271 other followers